John’s political career with the Labour Party spanned over 30 years including serving as MP for Leeds West and as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Since his retirement in 2010, John has dedicated his time to supporting local community groups and campaigning on issues of social justice.
Sitting in the beautiful Tiled Wall café in central Leeds John shared with us his understanding of an effective MP-constituent relationship; “Compromise has come to be a dirty word”, John explained, “but it was originally a legal term meaning ‘the coming together of parties to discuss’. We need more of that in politics. I’m a big fan of compromise and it’s something I had to think about a lot during my time as MP”.
John regaled to us various extraordinary stories from surgery meetings, including a time a constituent presented him with a suit to return to its retailer because he though MPs were short of work to do! “Constituents will come with their agenda” John explained, “and as an MP, I had mine. I was juggling so many different things, I had my party to represent, and the varying views of my constituents, as well as my own conscience. I couldn’t satisfy the needs of every constituent who came through my doors and we had to reach a compromise.”
Certainly in our experience working with MPs, we know that that the best MP-constituent relationships are developed by establishing common ground, however scarce it may be. John agreed with us that the first step is to find out what an MP is interested in- even if it’s just a positive photo opportunity- and design your local campaign around their agenda. (See our example illustration below drawn from our work with climate sceptics such as Philp Davies MP here).
Campaigners may have to compromise their own expectations, but the world of politics is one of compromise and small steps can lead to greater things.
Finally, we asked John for his top three lobbying tips;
- Relationship: “Don’t just stand outside Westminster holding banners”, John advised, “get stuck in and build a relationship with your local MP”. Invite them to your events, write them personal letters, make friends with their constituency staff- seek to build a relationship. (Read our resources on building a relationship with even the most challenging of MPs here).
- Research: “You cannot win a campaign without preparation” John insisted. Instead of turning up with your own agenda, research your MP’s and find out where your agenda meets theirs. Find the common ground and work from there. (Read our resources on researching your MP here).
- Refine: “Clarifying your questions is more important than finding the answer” John urged us, quoting Aristotle. The more focused a campaign, the easier it is to get off the floor. Know what you want your MP to do and make sure it’s realistic- play to their strengths. (Read our advice on choosing your campaign ‘ask’ here).
We were delighted to have John's endorsement for our approach!
Hope for the Future’s approach is grounded in the real advice and input of MPs across the political spectrum, as well as our own lobbying experience with hundreds of MPs across the UK. We offer training and one to one advice for anyone interested in having their voice heard on climate change. Contact us for more information about how we can support you with your lobbying work.